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Montenegro Rejects Calls to Release Detained Journalist

FILE - Policemen are seen incinerating narcotics seized in a drug busts in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica.

Montenegro's government is defending the detention of an investigative journalist on charges of drug-trafficking.

In its response to a letter from three human and media rights groups demanding Montenegrin authorities release Jovo Martinovic, the office of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said the indictment and detention of the journalist have nothing to do with his professional work, but are the result of a criminal investigation.

Srdjan Kusovac, an adviser to Djukanovic, insisted that Martinovic's detention was in line with the law and that he will have a fair trial.

Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders said Monday in their letter Martinovic's detention and prosecution “violate his rights to liberty and due process and disregard Montenegro's obligations to respect press freedom.''

The joint letter called for authorities to take account of the fact that Martinovic’s investigative reporting offers a logical explanation for why he was in contact with drug traffickers.

“A respected journalist who investigates crime and corruption, Martinovic, has spent 11 months behind bars without seeing any real evidence against him,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “If the charges are credible, then the prosecution should show him and his lawyer what they consider proof.”

Montenegrin authorities detained Martinovic on October 22, 2015, on suspicion of participating in a drug trafficking ring, pending the completion of an investigation against him and 17 other suspects.

On April 8, 2016, after he had been detained for nearly half a year, the Special Prosecutors Office filed an indictment against him and 13 others.

Martinovic has probed crime and corruption for various international media outlets including the Economist, the Financial Times, and the CAPA news agency.

Montenegro, a European Union and NATO membership candidate, is ranked 106th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders' 2016 World Press Freedom Index.